Lockdown by Peter May
Riverrun, 2020. ISBN: 9781529411690.
(Age: Senior secondary - adult) Highly recommended. D.I. Jack MacNeil treads on many toes in his investigation into the discovery of a child's skeletal remains. In normal times this crime would have hit the head lines, however, this is London under martial law, dealing with an epidemic of a deadly virus.The discovery of a bag and its contents mean that the excavations for a new emergency centre in Lambeth is a crime scene and work must stop, which upsets the government and the workers, who are getting good money to get the job done.
The bones of a small child have been stripped of flesh and cleaned and are quite fresh.They also reveal she has had the virus but one which has been developed in a laboratory. She also has, surprisingly, a severely cleft palate that has had no corrective surgery.
Amy Wu, a forensic odontologist, is called in to give her opinion on the remains and she feels a bond with the child that may well have shared her ethnicity. She makes the decision to do a facial reconstruction. She names the child Lyn and her empathy grows for this 10 year old with her terrible deformity.
Meanwhile as MacNeil begins his investigation, based on the most basic evidence he finds he has a guardian angel. When following a lead, he heads into an ageing housing estate where he encounters a gang of youths armed with baseball bats and lengths of pipes and only escapes with his life when two of the gang are shot. This recurs when he finally tracks down his lead, a worker in the old Battersea Power Station which has now become a crematorium on an industrial scale. During his confrontation he is attacked and again is saved by the anonymous sniper. It would seem the shooter is not protecting MacNeil but eliminating any links to the young girl.
As the investigation proceeds it becomes evident that a large pharmaceutical company Stein-Franks is involved. They were the producers of an anti-viral drug, Flu-Kill, in which they had invested huge capital and built manufacturing centres, but which in the end had not proved effective against the virus and orders had dried up leaving the company financially vulnerable.
Peter May began researching and writing Lockdown in 2005 but the story was consigned to a folder in his dropbox. His publishers didn't believe his version of London in lockdown could possibly happen, and as some of his other novels were published the story was shelved. How prophetic it was to become.
May has woven his murder mystery around the fear and apprehension created by a deadly virus, and the race to develop and market a cure by the major pharmaceuticals a story all so believable with the on going pandemic at present. Lockdown is a great read which also provides plenty of food for thought. I most heartily recommend it.
Themes: Pandemic, Fear, London, Pharmaceutical companies.